It took me several days to wrap my head around how I felt about the “Game of Thrones” series finale, and then it hit me—to produce something thought-provoking enough to still be a topic of discussion among millions nearly a week later is to produce something epic, regardless of the nature of those thoughts.
A lot of the disappointment among fans stems from the fact that we were promised an unhappy ending from the start, and the ending we got was merely bittersweet and bland at best. In any case, it was a good day to be a Stark; and although a full 10-episode season would have helped to fill some of the many holes still left in the plot, there would have always been some fans left unsatisfied.
Nevertheless, I think all of the good, bad and ugly moments from the finale are worth discussion…because as far as “Game of Thrones” episodes go, this was among the least satisfying.
“Lord of the ‘Six’ Kingdoms…”
Although the road that got us here was frustrating, there was no ending to “Game of Thrones” that could have possibly made more sense than naming Bran Stark as king. After all, it was Bran’s fall and subsequent assassination attempt that started the Great War—and, in some ways, it was his Three-Eyed Raven-ness that ended the Last War. Despite his absence from Season 5 and his status as the least valuable player in the final season, Bran was the nucleus to the overall plot and the foundation for this outcome was laid there from the beginning.
Breaking the wheel. Daenerys Targaryen’s ambition was to “break the wheel.” If she truly wasn’t able to have children, then Dany’s reign as queen would have always been similar to Bran’s in that she would have needed to provide the Seven Kingdoms with a new method of selecting a successor. All of the Westerosi drama begins and ends with family—highborn vs. lowborn, male heir vs. female, bastard vs. natural-born. Under the reign of Bran the Broken—a king unable to conceive children who has also named former cutthroats and smugglers to his Small Council—the wheel is finally broken.
The end to the Iron Throne. I can’t say I’ve ever seen a dragon mourn, but I can say with confidence that I never want to see it again because that was just painful. Fans have speculated for many years that dragonfire would eventually melt the Iron Throne. When Drogon discovers his dead mother’s body, he doesn’t blame Jon; instead, the dragon acknowledges that it was the throne itself that caused Dany’s demise—and the symbolism of that realization is simply stunning.
A different kind of villain. Bran made it seem as if he knew all along that he would end up on the throne (or wearing the crown while sitting in his wheelchair now that there is no throne). If that’s the case, then it just blows my mind how useless he has been this entire season. Perhaps the alterations made during his visions of the Night King and Hodor taught Bran not to mess with the past/future and he therefore decided not to tell anyone anything at any time. The problem is that it not only renders everything the writers teased about him completely irrelevant—including the fact that we never learned why he was warging during the Battle for Winterfell—but it also makes Bran seem like somewhat of a villain in all this. Maybe he knew that Dany needed to be killed, but does it justify his willingness to sit by and watch as she slaughters the entire population of King’s Landing? Dany didn’t fly to King’s Landing with the intention of setting fire to the city, but it still seems possible that Bran knew she would act on the impulse.
Now you are truly No One. Although it was Arya who trained to be a Faceless Man, it was Bran Stark who became No One in the end—and this sad acknowledgment gets neither a good nor a bad mark from me, because ultimately it makes sense. In addition to being able to know everything that has occurred in the past and everything occurring in his kingdom now, one of the main things that makes Bran a good choice to lead the new world is also the fact that he has no desires. It’s heartbreaking to see someone who was so genuinely compassionate toward others become what Bran Stark is now; but if love is the death of duty, then at least we know Bran will always be dutiful.
The smallest but bravest of all. Despite the many who felt Tyrion’s wisdom and even a bit of his wit has been lacking over the last few seasons, there isn’t a single fan that can deny his heroism in the end. His queen’s decision to burn down the city was a betrayal that was unforgivable to Tyrion, and something he had no intention of standing behind. He knows the punishment is death and has witnessed Dany’s version of execution—including being responsible for the death of his best friend—and yet Tyrion isn’t afraid. He accepts this as his probable and potentially immediate fate as he tosses his pin down the steps and publicly resigns as Hand of the Queen.
I legitimately expected Grey Worm to slash Tyrion’s throat with a spear during his trial, but Tyrion stands his ground. He will also do what he thinks is right, and Bran doesn’t need visions to see that. It’s always been the Hand of the King who truly leads this country—“the King shi*s and the Hand wipes,” as they say. Jorah said earlier this season that Tyrion, unlike most, accepts responsibility for his mistakes and always learns from them. We still have no idea what Bran and Tyrion spoke about the night before the Great War, but whatever occurred between them has convinced Bran beyond a reasonable doubt that there is no better person to help him rebuild the new world.
“Love is more powerful than reason…”
Realistically, the Unsullied guards never would have allowed Jon and Tyrion to speak alone inside that prison cell…but the outcome of that conversation is simple: both were too in love with Dany to see reason, no matter how often others tried to warn them—starting with Maester Aemon as early as Season 1.
Sometimes duty is the death of love. Once Jon remembers Aemon Targaryen’s warning that “love is the death of duty," Jon accepts the fact that his love for Daenerys has overshadowed all else. And in the moment that he realized he would have to kill her, Jon would have also recognized the fact that he would have to pay in one way or another for her death—once again proving his willingness to die for the greater good. Trueborn heir or not, Jon never wanted to rule the Seven Kingdoms; he only wanted to ensure that whoever did end up on the throne was not going to burn the country down to do so, as Dany and even Cersei intended to do. He was going to protect the realm at all costs; even if that meant Dany’s life and likely his own.
For this night and all the nights to come. After a full season of Jon only repeating about three lines, we finally saw a fantastic performance as he desperately attempts to find a reason not to kill his queen. It's not a question of whether Jon still loves her, but whether he can make her see reason; and the condemning response he gets from her leaves him no choice. Everything that Jon has done since joining the Night's Watch has been a testament to his vow to be “the shield that guards the realms of men.” Finally, he understands why men of the Night's Watch take no wives and father no children—because it was his love for Dany that ultimately made Jon forget his duty to the realm. He knows the consequences of killing her, but this is Jon’s way of accepting responsibility for the destruction that his loving her has caused.
The Final Watcher on The Wall. Sending Jon to The Wall was a strategic move on Bran’s part because what on the surface seemed a justified compromise to the Unsullied—who will never understand the purpose of the Night's Watch and therefore why it technically doesn't need to exist anymore—was really Bran’s way of relieving Jon of any burdens that staying in King’s Landing might cause him.
Bran’s abilities have allowed him to see that Jon truly belongs in the North—somewhere that he can finally find peace and give some well-deserved pets to the faithful pup that he nearly abandoned. Targaryen or Stark, the blood of the “Real North” runs through Jon’s veins. He didn't want the throne any more than Bran did; he simply wanted peace in the Seven Kingdoms, and now that he has accomplished that, Jon can move on with his life. In the meantime, Bran has shown the rest of the country that he is willing to do the right thing no matter the relation to the person who wronged the kingdoms.
Jon never wanted children; it was part of the reason he joined the Night's Watch in the first place—because until his recent discovery, any child of Jon’s would have been born a bastard, and he didn't want a child to have to grow up the way he did. Ultimately, the people waiting for him at Castle Black are alive because of Jon Snow, and they will worship him the way the Seven Kingdoms never would have. He is a Targaryen, after all.
A lesson in lineage and the relevance of a resurrection. Don’t worry, not all of my thoughts on Jon’s ending are positive. Although it’s within the George R. R. Martin’s style to build up characters and eventually tare them down, it’s not within his nature to leave breadcrumbs that lead nowhere. As shocking as the deaths of main characters like Ned and Robb Stark were at first, the foreshadowing of those endings was there all along if you knew where to look. In the case of Jon Snow’s breadcrumbs, I don’t know whether to blame the author for leaving the books unfinished or the show writers for not having enough direction to complete the story.
Since Jon killed Dany for the sake of the realm rather than for the sake of saving his own life (knowing full well that he would have eventually been on her hit list), his identity as the trueborn heir to the throne was ultimately irrelevant to the entire story. Jon had already been named King in the North without anyone caring about his lineage, so with the exception of annoying Dany and maybe pushing her over the edge, there was really no point—even after we waited six seasons to finally learn the identity of Jon’s mother and the major plot point that this revelation has become over the last three seasons.
The Stark siblings attend Jon’s hearing with their full force, ready to tell everyone that Jon is the true heir and to demand his freedom; yet his sisters readily agree to the compromise of sending Jon back to the Night’s Watch once Bran agrees to free the North. The writers ultimately made it look like Sansa’s only prerogative in all this was to annex the North and assumed that Jon would grant this request if he were named king. If crowning Bran does the same thing, then it no longer matters to Sansa that Jon is the rightful king.
We also never learned what the Lord of Light wanted from Jon Snow. After being resurrected six times, Beric Dondarrion's purpose was clear and finite whereas we are left guessing about Jon's. It was ultimately Sansa who won the Battle of the Bastards, and it was Arya who defeated the Night King; and in both of those scenarios, Jon’s sole purpose was to bring the armies together. So did the Lord of Light want him to kill the Dragon Queen simply to leave room for Bran to take the crown? Or is Jon’s purpose still waiting for him somewhere beyond The Wall? Now we will never know.
A glaring hole and a missed opportunity. On multiple occasions throughout the series, but especially once she met the King in the North, Dany has reiterated the fact that she cannot have children. So often did this come up that it was natural to think it would mean something in the final episodes. Jon Snow would not have tolerated killing Daenerys if she was carrying a child, nor would he have turned his back on Dany if the baby were his—because he would not have allowed the child to be born a bastard. A twist of that sort not only seemed likely but also could have saved the series from the anticlimactic ending we got instead.
Winter is coming…or not. In one final complaint about Jon’s ending, I need to know why it’s suddenly safe to inhabit the lands North of The Wall. From Season 1, long before anyone even believed in the White Walkers, we were told that winter was coming and that it would be the longest one in many years based on the length of that summer. And just last season, Sansa was preparing warmer armor for “when the real cold comes.” Winter doesn’t just come and go with the White Walkers, but the Night King vanished and suddenly the writers forgot it was still winter. The Army of the Dead was only one of the threats north of The Wall; the wildlings were also freezing and starving to death. Something about having Jon and Tormund lead the surviving wildlings north only a few episodes after we were told that winter has barely begun just doesn’t add up.
“Everywhere she goes, evil men die, and we cheer for it…and she grows more powerful and more sure that she is good and right.”
Answering injustice with justice (V) I’m fully on board with Dany’s descent into becoming the Mad Queen— and I even loved the shot of her emerging at the steps with Drogon’s wings appearing briefly as her own as he flaps away—what I can’t stand is how short-lived her tantrum was. She only spoke three times since burning down the city: once in war cry to the Dothraki and Unsullied; once to Tyrion, sentencing him to prison (thank goodness) rather than executing him then and there; and once to Jon Snow, just before he stabs her in the heart.
George R.R. Martin, author of the unfinished book series, told the HBO writers that he had three “WTF” moments planned for the upcoming books that he wanted them to use as benchmarks for the show. The first was Jon Snow’s death and resurrection; the second was the revelation of how Hodor got his name; and we can now assume, but not confirm, that the third was Daenerys going off the rails. The first two were such jaw-dropping moments that I just can’t imagine GRRM wanted Dany’s deterioration and subsequent demise to occur so quickly and anticlimactically.
In other words, if Dany's becoming the Mad Queen was inevitable, then we wanted see a truly mad queen. Instead, she died halfway through the episode.
Dragons are fire made flesh. Over the last 10 years, Daenerys Targaryen has become not only one of the most beloved characters on the show, but also one of the most iconic cinematic female characters of all time. She deserved, at the very least, a more dramatic ending.
Dany is not all fire and no heart. This is a girl whose entire life has revolved around liberating innocents—starting with the witch who later killed her husband and unborn child. Dany truly believed that setting fire to King’s Landing was liberating the city from the clutches of a tyrant, but failed to realize she was the one becoming the tyrant.
If she could only have seen the destruction and horror that she caused on the ground, there might have even been some small hint of regret. But the moral of the story is that ANY reaction from Dany with even a simple walk through the streets would have made her eventual death more satisfying to fans.
“The lone wolf dies, but the pack survives…”
A Targaryen alone in the world. On the flip side of all this, anyone who didn’t understand how Dany “suddenly” went mad should take another listen to Tyrion’s reasoning for why Jon should consider killing her. She has always had this side to her; it’s just that we have previously supported her actions because we believed the men she killed deserved it. And even then, that wasn’t always the case. If you’re like me, you’ll recall that it was difficult to watch Dany crucify the Meereenese nobles after Ser Barristan begged her not to be like her father and urged her to show them mercy.
Looking out at the damage she created, Dany felt a power that only someone atop a dragon, untouchable to those on the ground, can feel. With that power came a confidence that she did the right thing; and in one fell swoop, Dany’s ambition went from “liberating” King’s Landing to doing the same all over the world.
Every time a Targaryen is born, the gods flip a coin, and for Dany it could always have gone either way. Her transformation was a longtime coming, and the only thing sudden about it is that being in Westeros—a Targaryen alone in the world with nothing but fear to drive her—served as a catalyst to her descent.
The blood of Old Valyria. The Targaryens and their dragons only inhabited and eventually took over rule in Westeros after a volcano destroyed their ancestral lands—the remains of which we saw in Season 5, when Tyrion and Jorah Mormont were attacked by Stone Men. This is where Drogon fled to when he left Dany and his two brothers in Meereen, and Bran’s small council revealed in the finale that Drogon was last seen “flying east.”
Since Slaver’s Bay was renamed the Bay of Dragons after Dany regained control of those lands, it would have been more interesting to have Drogon bring Dany’s body to the Red Priestess who helped Dany in Meereen—filling yet another hole while also leaving us to forever wonder whether Dany can be resurrected as Jon was. However, Dany has always dreamed of home and never quite found it—so it would also be a fitting tribute for Dany’s ancestral home of Valyria to become her final resting place, which is a more likely destination for Drogon.
“I know a killer when I see one…”
“Not today”…and apparently not even tomorrow. Arya did so little in the finale that the only reason she’s even worth mentioning in this recap is because the prominence of her character development over the last five episodes suggested more from her than what we got. After single-handedly taking out the Army of the Dead, it would have been too corny for Arya to be the one to kill Daenerys, but at least it would have made sense. Especially given all of her screen time this season and the specific attention paid to her in the last episode.
Arya could have stayed in Winterfell while The Hound went to King’s Landing and not a single thing would have changed except that she has a couple bruises now. Basically all this tells me is that the sole purpose of keeping the camera on Arya during her escape from King's Landing was for dramatic effect—simply to give us a sense of what it was like on the ground during Dany's attack.
The death of a Faceless Man. Arya knows a killer when she sees one because she was trained to be a killer. We endured her training for two whole seasons and cheered when she chose to use those skills to avenge her family. And then nothing happened. (In fact, Cersei and Jaime Lannister’s faces—which realistically should have been flattened by the giant building that caved in on them—were in infuriatingly pristine condition after all the blood, guts and nudity we’ve seen in ripe for taking if Arya wanted them.)
West of Westeros. Arya’s character arc was arguably the best of the season if not the series and it felt like that was torn away from her in the end. If any character’s storyline deserves a sequel series, it’s Arya’s. Although she left out the bit about killing the Freys and Cersei first, Arya told Lady Crane in Season 5 that she intended to discover what’s west of Westeros. She put the plan on hold when she found out her family took back the North, but now she’s following her dream; and that, at least, is fitting to her character.
“Titles do seem to breed titles...”
With Bran as King of the Six Kingdoms and Sansa as Queen in the North, both Starks are now tasked with the reformation of Westeros—which includes naming lords and ladies and building a new world from the ground up (quite literally in the case of a few cities). As much as it could have, the episode did cover most of the bases in this respect.
New faces on the Small Council. I’m not sure why Westeros would need a new Master of Whispers since Bran can supposedly see everything happening all over the world, but the Small Council scene in general was easily the most satisfying scene of the finale. (Albeit perhaps not quite as satisfying as finally hearing the punch line of Tyrion’s “jackass-honeycomb-brothel” joke would have been, and certainly not as satisfying as having Meera Reed return to join them as one of Bran’s advisors.)
It was a proud moment for us but a sad moment for all the ladies to learn that Podrick is now a Knight of the King’s Guard. But with Tyrion as Hand of the King, Brienne as Commander of the King’s Guard, Sam Tarly as Grand Maester, Ser (now Lord) Davos as Master of Ships and Bronn as Master of Coin, the new Small Council should make for some very entertaining and hopefully productive meetings. (Although they’ll have to make some new rules at the Citadel if Sam hopes to maintain his relationship with Gilly.)
The future of the Six Kingdoms. With the North now out of the loop, the six remaining kingdoms include The Reach, The Stormlands, The Vale, The Westerlands, The Iron Islands and Dorne.
The Reach, formerly ruled by House Tyrell, has now been awarded to Bronn, who finally feels his debt has been paid. Bronn noted earlier this season that many of the Great Houses of Westeros rose to power thanks to a cutthroat who knew how to get what he wanted. He did mention in Season 4 that he felt he should have his own sigil, and now he’ll have that chance.
The Stormlands, formerly ruled by House Baratheon, was given to Gendry earlier this season when Dany legitimized him and made him Lord of Storm’s End and Lord Paramount of the Stormlands. Assuming, of course, that Bran didn’t take this opportunity away from him and that Gendry will find some awesome highborn beauty to marry in the wake of Arya’s rejection, The Stormlands will remain in the Baratheon family.
The Westerlands, formerly ruled by House Lannister, is also a question mark—but it’s safe to assume that Tyrion is now Lord of Casterly Rock and Warden of the West in addition to being Hand of the King, as his father was. His mojo has been gone for some time now, but with Dany gone, Tyrion will be free to marry whomever he chooses and sire some sons to rule the west in his place while he manages things in King’s Landing.
The Vale, formerly fuled by House Arryn, remains in the family as well—as the Starks’ cousin, Robin Arryn, appears to have grown up quite well despite having to locate some other form of nutrients in the absence of his mother’s breast milk.
As far as The Iron Islands and Dorne, I wasn’t too thrilled on this front…
Queen of the Iron Islands. I appreciated that Yara Greyjoy stuck up for the queen she pledged to fight for, but ultimately her decision to bow to Bran just didn't sit right. Much like Sansa, Yara has been hell-bent since we met her in Season 2 to annex the Iron Islands as a free and independent kingdom.
Her pact with the Dragon Queen clearly stated that if Yara helped Dany win the Iron Throne, Dany would allow Yara to maintain her title as Queen of the Iron Islands. When Sansa requests that the North remain independent of the other six kingdoms upon Bran’s appointment as king, you would think that Yara would want the same.
The Prince of Dorne. On a similar note, Dorne has also been out of the fold for decades—ever since Elia Martell was killed during Robert's Rebellion along with her husband, Rhaegar Targaryen, and their two children. We learned of the existence of a new Dornish prince earlier in the season along with the fact that he pledged fealty to Dany; but then when we finally meet him, he barely speaks apart from voting in Bran’s favor.
I'm not saying he needed some big role, but it would have been nice to at least learn his name since he is clearly not a Martell. Plus, I really wanted to know what Ellaria Sand was up to in the dungeons during all the chaos above ground. She most likely died the same way as the Lannister twins, but still. Since someone has been guarding her cell all this time to ensure that Ellaria lives to see her daughter’s body rot, it could have been fun to see one way or the other.
And now our Watch has ended…
I still have so many questions that were left unanswered—like the voice Lord Varys heard in the flames and what it had to do with his presence in Westeros; what Melisandre was doing in Volantis; and questions dating back as far as Season 1, like the significance of Jon Arryn’s final words, “The seed is strong.”
I also want to know who was in charge of doing the math—because Dany only left the Plaza of Pride with 8,000 Unsullied, many of whom have died along the way, and half of the survivng Unsullied were killed fighting the Night King. (They also made it seem like maybe a dozen Dothraki survived that battle…but I digress.)
Overall, Tyrion said best when he declared that there’s nothing in the world more powerful than a good story; and this, my friends, was a damn good story.
Say all you want about the final season—but I’m willing to bet that any “Game of Thrones” fan who watched from start to finish would still encourage those who haven’t to give the series a chance.
Think of all the people who insisted that fantasy or sword fighting “just wasn’t their thing” but couldn’t help but fall in love with it anyway. There are still people out there who have yet to start “Game of Thrones” because they simply don’t know they need it in their lives.
Now that we’ve all vented our feelings toward the ending, we owe it to those people to keep our complaints to a minimum and to remember the joy we got out of the first seven seasons.
With that said…to conclude my final “Game of Thrones” recap and review, I will take the opportunity to amend Tyrion’s statement to this:
The only thing in the world more powerful than a good story is a good story with dozens of beloved characters that are brought to life through stunning performances from a massive ensemble; unforgettable and often jaw-dropping visuals from settings and set design to costumes and CGI technology; and exceptional original music that will be remembered for a lifetime.